Feb 082011

by Deborah Phelan

In her inimitable prose, Deborah manages to tie together animal communication, climate change, Carl Gustav Jung, the disproportionate exposure of African Americans to pollution, and the recent events in Egypt.

In his 2004 book Animal Talk, Tim Friend writes about his search for a universal language to answer such questions as: Is animal communication similar to human communication?  Do animals ever lie or deceive one another?  Does inner-and extra species communication have follow similar patterns?  Can a dog understand a titmouse?  To what extent is ALL  communication, both verbal and nonverbal, programmed into our genes?

Meanwhile, author John Seabrook today discusses how ants use pheromones to communicate across long distances, thus preventing pileups or ‘traffic jams’ and insuring successful crowd behavior. Humans, he notes, lacking this natural sensory communication, rely on  social media tech tools to inform, motivate, mobilize and strategize. (CrushPoint).

Just what knowledge can we transfer from the people’s movement in Egypt to catalyze climate action and rally sufficient ‘troops’ to de-fossilize our energy dependence?  Are any of the communication methods employed by animals adaptable to our species? And is it possible, in a post — or blacked-out — technological age, to apply seemingly outdated methods of communication as a method of mobilizing mass action.


According to expert Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell, Elephants use their voices to create sounds, which transfer into waves through the ground. The elephants receive the information through vibration sensitive cells in their feet, particularly in the toes, heels and even the trunk. According to one acoustic specialist, an elephant foot resembles a satellite disc (or perhaps the other way around). The waves, or vibrations, travel up the leg bone of another elephant, through the shoulder and to the middle ear bones, where they are processed in the auditory cortex region of the brain. Link

In a recent Discovery Channel program, researchers suggest that while animals may not possess a sixth sense, they definitely have the ability to utilize and synthesize the senses we all share. Animals, they say,  are quite simply more naturally adept at both registering and interpreting signals: e.g., “better hearing (dogs, birds, cows and elephants, among many others); better night vision (cats, coyotes, foxes, owls); and keener senses of smell (dogs again, which can be trained to sniff out bombs, track lost children, unearth human remains, and even, according to recent studies, detect malignancies). Some animals are also tuned in to the subtle vibrations in the earth and the air that indicate the onset of a storm, say, or an earthquake.”


Take, for example, the Cassowary. Scientistsin Papua New Guinea, study the Cassowary, whose calls are well below the level of human hearing, and determine that low frequency sound waves are a more efficient method of communication in a rain forest or through vegetation. This method of communication, therefore, is ideal for these birds to hear one another over great distances.

In Animal Talk, Friend calls the sounds of the jungle a symphony. Recalling his first visit to the Amazon jungle, he remembers being unable to sleep because outside his tent there is “a raucous party going on — with lots of wild action by the strange and wondrous creatures all around our campsite. The night is teeming with sounds that seem louder and more intriguing than anything I have ever heard.”

Beyond the camp, in vibrant surround sound, tree frogs and insects are laying down a soulful, energetic chorus like a choir at an old-fashioned Southern tent revival. Unfamiliar birds and nocturnal monkeys overlay the chorus with melodies and their own unique lyrics.


(Niko) Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz developed the concept of “intention movements” to explain the evolution of communication, suggesting that the signals an animal uses to communicate in a conflict arose from the same physical movements and vocal sounds that it would normally use during an actual fight. For example, many mammals reflexively retract their lips when fighting to protect them from being bitten off by an opponent, and they retract their lips when biting another animal. That reflex has evolved into baring one’s teeth at a potential opponent. (The human snarl curls the lip to reveal a canine tooth, which was larger in our ancient ancestors.) During a conflict, the natural fear and aggression an animal feels will cause its hair, assuming it’s a hairy beast, to stand on end. This autonomic, or involuntary, response to fear and aggression, called piloerection, has become another bluffing signal in a conflict — it makes the animal look bigger. The idea is that if an animal appears as if it intends to fight by assuming the various postures and vocalizations associated with fighting, maybe the opponent will back down.


Testing: Today’s EcoSwarm Alert!

The Marfork Five: Putting Massey on Trial

Coal River Mountain Watch is calling for massive public support this Wednesday in a nationwide alert to pressure Massey Energy’s new owners Alpha Natural Resources to put an end to their legislation against 34 West Virginia anti-mountaintop removal protesters National Call in Day


The Marfork Five protestors face a federal trail for participating in the  January 2010 tree-sit at West Virginia’s Coal River Mountain to protest mountaintop removal mining. This lawsuit is one of five simultaneous Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (“SLAPP” suits) that have been filed against over 30 defendants by four separate Massey Energy subsidiaries. The Marfork Five are using this trial as an opportunity to put mountaintop removal on trial in a federal courtroom.  Arguing the defense of necessity, they state that their trespass was necessary to stop the greater crime of mountaintop removal. The trial will take place on June 14 at the federal courthouse in Beckley, West Virginia.


Coal & Environmental Justice


Coal Mining and coal-fired power plants are devastating not only to the environment but also for their disproportionate affect on communities already suffering inequalities. Low-income  and indigenous communities are most often located in close proximity to coal-fired plants, rural mountaintop removal and coal mining areas.

Environmental justice is now unequivocally equated with fundamental human rights and justice, as evidence of the unequal distribution of environmental burdens on low income and indigenous peoples compounded by the existing social and economic injustices encountered by the world’s poor.

Climate Change: Its Time to Tell Another Story (SmartMeme)

Casepoint: The African American population in the United States: African Americans constitute 13 percent of the population while contributing twenty percent fewer GHGs than whites. African Americans are almost three times more likely than whites to be hospitalized or die from asthma and respiratory illness linked to air pollution.


• Seventy-one percent African-Americans live in counties that violate federal air pollution standards,
• Seventy-eight percent live within thirty miles of a coal-fired plant


People’s Movements Informing Climate Action

Could We Please Have the Next Capitol Climate Action in Cairo?


The rising tide of a people’s movement, like in Egypt, seeking justice and democracy is not an uncommon global phenomenon in the past 20-plus years, but the question for those of us seeking climate justice and climate action: How do we build North American People Power to dismantle the fossil fuel economy like the Egyptians are dismantling Mubarak’s dictatorship? How do we organize a hundred Capitol Climate Actions democratically, from the bottom up, with effective mass direct action and sustained momentum like Egyptian comrades are doing today?


We’re racing against time. Big Oil and King Coal are waging war on our planet and its people without mercy and without quarter. In contrast to Mubarak, they are the global oppressors holding back our future and it’s time to rise up against these corporate megalomaniacs. A global movement of climate justice organizers and direct actionistas has been building People Power against the root causes of climate change.



Synchronicity is an explanatory principle, according to its creator, Carl Jung. Synchronicity explains “meaningful coincidences,” such as a beetle flying into his room while a patient was describing a dream about a scarab. The scarab is an Egyptian symbol of rebirth, he noted. Therefore, the propitious moment of the flying beetle indicated that the transcendental meaning of both the scarab in the dream and the insect in the room was that the patient needed to be liberated from her excessive rationalism. His notion of synchronicity is that there is an a causal principle that links events having a similar meaning by their coincidence in time rather than sequentially. He claimed that there is a synchrony between the mind and the phenomenal world of perception.

Evolutionary biologists, discussing the recent emergence of massive synchronized mobilizations, are suggesting that perhaps man’s evolutionary end game might involve the emergence of the ‘hive mind’, a leap beyond the Darwinian concept of survival of the fittest to the adaptive concept of survival of the species. The individual adaption, the individual fitness, in a manner of speaking becomes similar to the sacrificial worker bee. When bees sting, it is a sacrificial act, to protect the hive.

“As electronic communications become ubiquitous, the evolution of such hive-like traits will accelerate, according to these scientists, propelling humankind toward the kind of synchronicity exhibited by bees when they swarm, birds when they flock and fish when they swim in schools.” Link


Post tech world (aka in our beginning is our end)


He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”


So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
Paul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadworth Longfellow.